By Dr. Harold A. Black
I hate Jackie Robinson Day (April 15 annually). No I do not hate Jackie Robinson. I love Jackie Robinson. My father planned our summer vacation around the Brooklyn Dodgers schedule. If they were in Brooklyn we stayed with my mother’s brother who lived close to Ebbett’s Field. If they were in Cincinnati we stayed with his brother and went to Crosley Field where Knoxville’s own Ed Bailey caught for the Cincinnati Redlegs. Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer tells the story of the 1955 World Campion Dodgers and is one of my favorite books. Their lineup is a classic with Robinson, Don Newcombe (the first black pitcher to win 20 games), Jim Gilliam, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider among other notables. In it Kahn relates that Robinson was not a passive, turn the other cheek player. If you disrespected him. He would steal bases with his spikes high saying “don’t do that again.” He was different. When he came into the league in 1947 he was a black player in a league dominated by southern whites. He was also college educated where most players only at best finished high school. He was also the rare multisport athlete having lettered in baseball, football, track and basketball at UCLA. Robinson was also one of the first black commissioned officers in World War II but didn’t see action with his tank battalion because he was being court martialed for refusing to move to the back of a military bus.
So I love Jackie Robinson. But why do I hate Jackie Robinson Day? It is because it ignores an equal trailblazer, Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians who came into the majors in the same 1947 year but on July 5 rather than at the beginning of the season. Doby was a great player and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to having been forgotten as the second black major leaguer few realize that he was also the second black manager (behind Frank Robinson). Doby suffered the same indignities as Robinson, He was not allowed to stay in the same hotels as his teammates. He was the subject of taunts and epithets from players and fans. He suffered through it all with grace. I used to send an email annually to Major League Baseball advocating for Jackie Robinson/Larry Doby Day but was always ignored.
Recently I suggest to Randy Boyd, the owner of our minor league team, two things. First, baseball needs to remember Larry Doby and second, each major league team should have a day in which all players and coaches wear the name and number of their first black player. I own three named baseball jerseys: Cleveland Indians’ Larry Doby, Cincinnati Reds’ Chuck Harmon and a Boston Braves’ Sam Jethroe. I do not have a Jackie Robinson jersey.